Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Assignment Five: Written Reflection- Section Three

ASSIGNMENT FIVE: WRITTEN REFLECTION-Section Three- The Essential Writing Day Chapters 7-10

Chapter 7: Be Efficient and Integrate Basic Skills
• How might we integrate skill work into student writing rather than teaching it in isolation?
• Daily Oral Language exercises – THEY DON’T WORK!!!
• The importance of focusing on meaning and quality first
• All writing needs both a PURPOSE and an AUDIENCE
• How thinking aloud can make your teaching more explicit
• Teaching WRITING – not just the language of writing (process, process, process)
• What about writing standards? In your District and State?
• Key writing minilessons
• Revision – how to get students to care about it
• Letting kids in on the secret that – Yes! – Conventions do matter!
• How can we effectively use word walls?

In Chapter 7, suitably titled “Be Efficient and Integrate Basic Skills,” Regie gets to the heart of what so many teachers struggle with: “Fitting it all in!!!” Many of the elementary teachers that we work with are beginning to feel as though their personal motto is: “Jack of all trades; master of none.” We just don’t have the time to teach well what has to be taught. The only answer to this problem is to modify our instruction so it agrees with Regie’s stance that isolated skill work (such as Friday spelling tests, DOL, grammar worksheets…) will not help our students grow into writers (or readers.) On page 144, Regie shares four components for an integrated Writing Workshop:

1. Identify writing genres that would interest students (and meet district requirements)
2. Decide who the audience would be for each piece of writing.*
3. Model your own writing process and show students how you struggle.
4. Have students share writing regularly (for both celebration and great teaching moments.)
*This created the biggest change in my own class’s writing - once my students began to write with an audience in mind, the quality of writing shot right up!

Regie also gets to the heart of what writing with “voice” really is and addresses how to teach children to write with an honest voice in their own writing. She describes voice as “the writer’s unique personality on paper, his own melody in words, her ‘mark’ as an individual. To write with voice, the writer has to be interested in the writing.” We think that many teachers and students are unclear as to how to add true voice to their writing. Regie suggests, “Voice is in the details – but details that show the real person and story behind the words, not just details for the sake of adding more words…”

Integrating those isolated editing skills such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling into our writing will increase the efficiency of our instruction. Bottom line – if the students care about their writing, are writing for a specific audience, and understand that “the importance of editing (and spelling conventionally) is to make their message clear and easy to read for their audience – or reader, they take this job seriously and work hard at making their writing clear.”

Chapter 8: Organize for Daily Writing
• What is our definition of Writing Workshop? What does Regie say?
• How can we have student choice within a structure?
• The importance of writing talk (teachers and students)
• The ultimate nightmare for all of us…scheduling…finding the time to write everyday
• The importance of routines, organization and modeling expected behavior
• Genre study – why it’s important to have both school-wide and district-wide conversations
• The possibilities within genres

Figuring out a way to “fit it all in” is usually one of the most frustrating things many of us face. It starts at the beginning of the year as we first plan our daily schedule and continues throughout the remainder of the year. Considering how you will create your schedule to include a solid chunk of time for both reading and writing will probably be the most stressful piece to the start of your year.

Create a Comprehensive Literacy Framework: Play with your time and consider what changes you might make in your daily literacy framework for next year. Take a look at the samples that Regie provides on pages 185-187 for some possibilities. You do not have to post your schedule, but we believe this is a worthwhile activity to complete on your own.

Chapter 9: Conference with Students
• What is the purpose of a Writing Conference?
• What are the different types of Writing Conferences?
• How can Share be used effectively?
• How to conduct a productive conference
• What about management and routines?

We are so glad that this chapter talks about Share during Writer’s Workshop. Too often this component is skipped by teachers who feel there isn’t enough time in the day to “fit it all in.” However, it’s a vital piece of the workshop and beneficial to all the students. Share sessions are an additional time to teach. The teachers in my school are quite comfortable using Share as their mini-lesson if the need arises. Given the reality of daily schedules they were finding that they couldn’t have a mini-lesson, confer and share everyday. They then realized that their Shares sometimes were the minilessons. For more information about Share we recommend looking at Leah Mermelstein’s Don’t Forget To Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop. In this slim book, Leah explains in detail four types of Share: Content Share, Craft Share, Process Share and Progress Share.

The “Tips for Successful Whole-Class Shares and Conferences” on page 215 are excellent ones to keep in mind. The bottom line for Conferences and Shares is that students should feel successful and want to continue to write. Make sure what you say to the child encourages them to keep on writing. “The conference is secondary; the student as writer and confident learner is primary.”

Chapter 10: Make Assessment Count
• Understanding how rubrics work
• How can we collect reliable data on students’ writing throughout the day?
• Guidelines for grading and providing evidence for parents, administrators and the public

“There is lots of writing assessment going on these days, but little of it actually improves the quality of students’ writing.” As Regie continues she points out that this ‘assessment’ “is seldom used to improve daily instruction.” This chapter is about becoming more knowledgeable about assessments. Regie notes, that unless teachers know how to teach writing well, it can be a waste of time to examine students’ writing and place students on a writing continuum. She encourages you, as a staff to “write together, study together, converse together, gather school-wide data, analyze these data and set goals for improving writing instruction. There is no shortcut to helping students become effective writers and there is no program you can buy that will do it for you.”

Remember to use rubrics judiciously and not overdo it. They should be “used as an evaluation tool, not as the driving instructional force.” “Use professional common sense. It is not advisable to apply rubrics to ALL writing nor to score ALL writing. Just as our students need lots of practice reading many texts without the expectation that they will be assessed on everything they read, they need lots of practice writing without being assessed on everything they write.” (Page 243)

Have your students do a lot of writing! “Extensive writing across the curriculum as part of an excellent writing program is the best preparation for doing well on (standardized) tests. Readers have to read avidly to become readers and the same holds true for writers. Kids who write a lot develop higher-order thinking and understanding that translates to higher achievement on all types of tests.” Be sure to check out “Try It Apply It” on page 246 and throughout the chapter for ideas to incorporate into your program.

As Regie points out in this chapter, “The joy has gone out of writing.” We need to “concentrate on developing kids as learners rather than kids as test takers.”


  1. To me Chapter 7 made the point that students need get their ideas down in writing and not get stuck staring at a blank piece of paper. Routman says, “The title and lead can come later.” By doing this the writer will discover what they are really trying to say. This will give them direction, which, will then naturally put a title and lead into focus. After they get their thoughts on paper, rethinking, revision, and editing can follow. Via demonstrations, guided practice, having an audience in mind and the relevance of using their own work, students will develop a better understanding of what good writers do and why. This is what I think Routman means when she talks about “Efficiency of context.”

    Three things from chapter 8 that spoke to me are making time for writing, choice within structure and about prewriting. I agree with Routman that it is necessary to make time for writing everyday. I see it as a way to create a writing culture in the classroom, and as an efficient way to cover material. Next, “Choice within structure.” I view this as a way of getting students to take more pride in their work by creating assignments that are more relevant to them. Finally, I am taking away her ideas about overdoing planning and the use of graphic organizers. Too much time and energy spent on warming up does not leave enough in the tank for working out. Those are my thoughts.

    My idea of a writing conference has totally changed since reading chapter 9. My old thought was, a one on one, 3-minute sit-down with each student. I had no idea how that would be manageable. However, after reading chapter 9, I have a much better understanding of what a writing conference can look like and how to use them. I see whole-class share, roving conferences and peer conferencing as efficient avenues for feedback and guidance. Then use a one-on-one conference when the student is ready. Additionally, I appreciate all the examples of appropriate things a teacher can say to teach and encourage better writing. “Today, I will be on the lookout for kids who are trying conversation in their writing.” This and others, I will try to employ.

    The idea that “assessment practices lead to targeted teaching,” is not news to me. However, I must say Routman has deepened my understanding of this concept. Specifically, I am thinking about the proper use of rubrics and how they should be created with student input and child-friendly. Furthermore, we should not hesitate to exercise our professional common sense when assessing. In regards to test prep, I think that genre of writing needs to be taught as part of an overall writing program. A couple ideas that struck a cord with me are 20 – 30 minutes daily of sustained writing for writing stamina, encouraging rereading, and teaching to students to be able to write on demand.

  2. Tom, this is a great reflection. So glad that you took away so many points from this section.

    After reading your post this week, I thought of a teacher in my school. She happens to be a blended 5/6 teacher. As she was leaving the library she was giving instructions to the students on what the next steps were when they returned to class. She told them she had written a piece of writing and they were going to each score her piece using the established rubric. Then the students would get together in small groups to discuss their thoughts and work. And finally, they would pull together as a whole class to discuss the writing piece and what specific examples students used to assign a score.

    What I thought was so smart about this was that the teacher had done the writing and was asking the students to score her work with the rubric. A sort of flip of normal happenings in the classroom. While I've often used other students' works (with no names and usually from other schools or classes or previous years) to provide examples of meeting the standard, exceeding the standard and below the standard; we would have conversations about the pieces, especially the nearly there examples of what was lacking and what would push the piece over the line to become a meeting standard exemplar. The conversations I've had in these lessons have always been so fruitful and worthwhile.

    I agree with all that you wrote above. And also feel that we do have to teach "writing to the test" as a specific genre. Not that we have to do it all year, but giving the students the experience and toolkit necessary to get a leg up on standardized tests.